Archive for David Phelps
Last Friday, Buster Olney (Insider req’d) put together a post listing eight things that must go right for the Yankees in 2013. Most of them are obvious, like CC Sabathia having a strong season and Mariano Rivera returning to form, but I figured this was a good chance to piggyback on his idea and list some things I believe must go right for the club this year. I’m talking about big picture stuff, not just things that will help them contend in 2013.
Olney listed eight items, but I’m only going six deep. These aren’t listed in order of importance or anything like that, just in the order they came to me. They’re all important, but some are obviously more important than others.
The Yankees have three starting pitchers scheduled to become free agents after the season — Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, and Phil Hughes — and the plan to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold in 2014 means they won’t be able to go crazy on the free agent market next winter. Getting something out of Michael Pineda in the second half would obviously be helpful, but it’ll be just as important for either Nova or Phelps to step forward and solidify themselves as long-term starters. Finding a cheap starter in the organization is a necessity to remain competitive once payroll is slashed.
2. Austin Romine must stay healthy.
Romine is likely to open the season in Triple-A while Chris Stewart and Frankie Cervelli make us want to claw our eyes out at the big league level, which is the best thing for his development. The 24-year-old has caught just 103 total games over the last two years due to persistent back problems, so he’s lost a lot of development time at a crucial age. Gary Sanchez is still several years away, so Romine is the organization’s best hope for a productive catcher in the near future. He needs to actually stay healthy for that to happen, so a full season in 2013 is imperative for his long-term future.
Rivera is a baseball playing robot and I expect him to have little trouble being productive following knee surgery. David Robertson is as good a setup man as you’ll find in the game, and the left-handed duo of Boone Logan and Clay Rapada is one of the better LOOGY tandems in baseball. The middle innings — fifth, sixth, and seventh, basically — fall on the shoulders of two pitchers who have combined to throw 50.1 innings over the last two seasons.
Joba, 27, struggled when he came off the DL at the trade deadline but finished the season very well, allowing just one earned run and one walk against 17 strikeouts in his final 13 innings of the season. It’s not a guarantee he’ll pitch well in 2013 of course, but it is encouraging. Aardsma made one late-season appearance and will be coming off two lost years due to elbow and hip surgery. The Yankees can get by if one of these two flames out and is unable to find his form from a few years ago, but getting nothing from both would create some major bullpen headaches.
4. Ichiro Suzuki must produce on an extreme, either good or bad.
The Yankees handed out just one multi-year contract this offseason, deciding the 39-year-old Ichiro was worthy of that kind of commitment. It’s my belief the deal was motivated by off-field factors — merchandise and ticket sales, advertising opportunities, increased popularity in Japan, etc. — and not so much his expected on-field performance. The late-season hot streak was nice and all, but Ichiro has managed just a .277/.308/.361 batting line in his last 1,384 plate appearances. Consider me skeptical.
So, what the club needs most from Suzuki next year is an extreme performance. He either needs to hit the cover off the ball like he did down the stretch and make me look like an idiot, or he needs to play so poorly the club will have no choice but to replace him. Splitting the middle and treading water won’t help, it just means he’ll remain in the lineup and be a question mark heading into 2014. Ichiro needs to erase doubt this summer, either by hitting so well they have to keep him or by hitting so poorly they have to dump him.
Every team needs their top prospects to stay healthy for obvious reasons, and the Yankees have three of their best minor leaguers coming off major injuries. Williams (shoulder) missed the second half following surgery while Campos (elbow) barely pitched in 2012. Heathcott (shoulder) missed the first half following his second surgery in as many offseasons and has yet to play more than 76 games in a single season. All three are among the team’s very best prospects and if the Yankees are serious about sticking to a budget, they’re going to need cheap production. That isn’t limited to plugging these guys into the roster down the line either, they need to stay healthy to boost potential trade value as well.
6. Alex Rodriguez must hit at least 13 homers.
Despite all the recent PED stuff, I’m working under the assumption A-Rod will rejoin the team around the All-Star break because that’s what the doctors (and the Yankees!) said following his latest hip surgery. If they’re able to void or otherwise shed his contract, great. But I’ll believe it when I see it.
Anyway, A-Rod is currently sitting on 647 career homers and is 13 away from triggering the first of five $6M homerun milestones in his contract. Triggering that bonus in 2013 — the next homer bonus would then be 54 homers away, a total even in-his-prime Alex would have trouble reaching in one year — gives the team another $6M to spend under the luxury tax threshold in 2014. It doesn’t sound like much, but $6M does go a long way. It’s enough to add an $18M player at the trade deadline. I don’t care anything about this latest PED stuff, I care about A-Rod reaching this first homer bonus this summer to give the team more flexibility next year.
The Yankees have been very active on the free agent market this offseason, though it’s easy to forget since most of the signings were re-signings. Kevin Youkilis is the only new player the team has signed this winter, and they still have questions to answer at DH, behind the plate (unlikely to be addressed in a meaningful way), and on the bench. There’s a lot of offseason left and a lot of holes to fill.
For a big market team like New York, free agency is the easiest way to add players. There’s always the trade route though, and in fact the club has swung a major trade in four of the last five offseasons. Some (Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson) have worked better than others (Michael Pineda and Javy Vazquez). The Yankees may or may not have a trade of that magnitude left in them this winter, but not every deal has to be a blockbuster to help. Let’s take stock of the team’s current crop of trade chips.
Logan, 28, has emerged as the team’s primary left-handed reliever over the last two years, but in no way should he be off limits this offseason. In fact, Clay Rapada has been much more effective against same-side hitters in recent years, though he’s unusable against righties. Logan can at least fake it against batters of the opposite hand if need be. Since he’s due to become a free agent next winter and is coming off a career-high (and league-leading) 80 appearances, Boone should be made very available this winter. Teams continually prove willing to overpay for quality relief, especially a left-handed relief.
For all his defensive deficiencies, the 25-year-old Nunez has garnered plenty of trade interest (from the Braves and Mariners, specifically) in recent years. Finding decent middle infield help these days is close to impossible, so teams are eager to roll the dice on a cheap young player with speed and contact skills. Frankly, if Nunez had spent the last few years in some other city, a lot of Yankees fans would be looking at him as a buy-low guy whose defense might be fixable with enough reps. Because we’ve seen the hilarious frequency of his errors first hand, he gets written off quickly. C’est la vie.
Ivan Nova & David Phelps
The Yankees brought both Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte back, meaning Nova and Phelps will battle it out for the fifth starter’s spot in camp. The loser goes to the bullpen (or Triple-A) to wait his turn as the sixth starter. Both guys could also be trade bait as young, cost-controlled back-end arms, though both also have their warts. Nova got pounded last season and Phelps has just a handful of big league starts to his credit.
Phil Hughes could also be lumped into this group, but he only offers one year of team control and is being counted on as the fourth starter behind the three veterans. He shouldn’t be off-limits, but he might not fetch as much as the team would like given the impending free agency. Hughes is most desirable to contenders, and it’s not often you see a trade made between two contenders.
Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott, Gary Sanchez & Tyler Austin
You can’t have a trade chips post without mentioning the top prospects. These four represent the team’s best young minor leaguers in whatever order, though none of them have meaningful experience at the Double-A level. For all intents and purposes, they’re four high-upside guys in Single-A ball. As we’ve seen in the recent R.A. Dickey and James Shields trades, it takes an elite prospect on the cusp of the big leagues to land an impact player. Teams will surely line up to acquire these four, but I don’t think any of them would be enough to bring say, a young and MLB ready impact bat without significant secondary pieces. Twelve months from now, one or all of these guys could be among the best trade chips in the sport.
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Curtis Granderson’s name has popped up as a trade candidate numerous times this offseason, though I maintain that it will be close to impossible to trade him and improve the team at the same time. The Yankees didn’t drop $62M total on five free agents this winter to trade their best power hitter for a young player who might help two or three years from now, potentially wasting a year of CC Sabathia at his best, of Robinson Cano at his best, of David Robertson at his best, of Pettitte and Mariano Rivera before they call it a career. With the 2014 payroll plan looming, making one last “all-in” run in 2013 should be the club’s top priority even if they seem to feel differently.
All 30 managers meet with the media for 30-ish minutes during the Winter Meetings, and Joe Girardi held his Q&A session late this afternoon. It’s pretty typical of Yankees people to speak a lot of words but not actually say much, and this was no different. I don’t have the audio to share because the quality is awful, but here’s a recap…
- Girardi confirmed what Brian Cashman said yesterday, that A-Rod didn’t say anything about his hip until being pinch-hit for in Game Three of the ALCS. “His hips weren’t firing right. It wasn’t pain but he felt it was not the explosiveness … I was somewhat worried because he’d been through it on his right hip and you’d think he’d know what the feeling was like. It wasn’t firing the way he thought.”
- A-Rod went for an MRI on his right hip after the game, and when it came back clean Girardi kept playing him. He did acknowledge Alex “did look different than he did before he got hurt.” The team doesn’t know exactly when the injury happened.
- On losing A-Rod for the first half of next year: “It’s big. You go into an offseason and you feel you have to address certain areas and all of a sudden you get a little bit of a surprise. It’s a pretty big hole to fill, and it may not necessarily be (filled) with one person.”
- “I’m not sure,” said the skipper when asked about any tension in his relationship with A-Rod. “It probably answers a lot of questions — he wasn’t the Alex we saw before the injury. Now we have a reason, possibly why.”
Even after unloading A.J. Burnett on the Pirates, the Yankees went into Spring Training with six starters for five spots plus an all-prospect rotation slated for Triple-A. They had more pitching depth than they’ve had at any other point in recent years, but as we know, these things tend to work themselves out. Michael Pineda hurt his shoulder in camp, which pushed Freddy Garcia into the rotation and left the long reliever gig up for grabs.
The Yankees had three viable candidates for the job in right-handers Adam Warren, D.J. Mitchell, and David Phelps. The three competed for the spot in camp but Warren (eight runs in 15 innings) quickly fell out of contention. Mitchell kept runs off the board (2.60 ERA) but he also walked (nine) nearly as many as he struck out (13). Phelps was the only one of the three to really stand out (2.08 ERA with 14/4 K/BB in 17.1 innings), plus he was showing newfound velocity, so he was rewarded by breaking camp with the team as the last guy out of the bullpen.
The 26-year-old Phelps made his big league debut in the team’s third game of the season, as Joe Girardi brought him out of the bullpen with men on first and second with one out in the eighth inning of a three-run game. He struck out the first man he faced (Elliot Johnson) on four pitches, then completed the escape job by coaxing a two-pitch ground out from Reid Brignac. Not exactly the toughest competition, but it was an impressive showing for a kid making his first career appearance as a Major Leaguer.
Phelps threw 2.1 scoreless and hitless innings of relief against the Orioles two days later, then tossed 5.1 innings of one-run and one-hit ball against the Angels in his Yankee Stadium debut four days later. The first run he allowed in the show was a Vernon Wells solo homer. Phelps pitched to a 3.57 ERA (5.64 FIP) in 17.2 innings across six April relief outings, but the Yankees needed him in the rotation because Garcia had been brutal. In his first career start on May 3rd, the day Mariano Rivera blew out his knee, Phelps allowed two runs in four innings against the Royals while being held to a strict pitch count.
His next start six days later went much better (4.2 shutout innings against the Rays), but Andy Pettitte had been deemed ready and Phelps was sent back to the bullpen. He allowed two earned runs in 7.1 innings across his next five appearances, then was optioned all the way down to High-A Tampa when David Robertson came off the DL in early-June. The Yankees wanted to stretch Phelps back out into a starter, but he made only two minor league appearances before being recalled later in the month. They needed him to be the long man behind Warren, who was scheduled to make his big league debut in place of an injured CC Sabathia.
Phelps piggy-backed with Warren against the White Sox on June 29th then made a start against the Athletics five days later (one run in 4.1 innings). The Yankees sent him down to Double-A after that to stretch back out, and he made two dominant minor league starts (no runs with 18 strikeouts in 13.1 innings) before rejoining the big league squad for good in mid-July. He threw 10.2 scoreless innings in his seven appearances then moved back into the rotation when Ivan Nova hit the DL with a bum shoulder. Phelps made seven starts (four good, three not good) before moving back into the bullpen in mid-September.
His final appearance of the regular season came in Game 161, when the Yankees were still fighting with the Orioles for the AL East crown. They entrusted him with the start over the ineffective Nova, and he held the post-blockbuster Red Sox to two runs in 5.2 innings in the eventual win. Phelps was, by far, the team’s worst pitcher in the postseason, allowing at least one run in each of his three outings. He took the extra-innings loss in both ALDS Game Four and ALCS Game One, then allowed the Tigers to score an insurance run that turned out to the be the margin of victory in ALCS Game Three. It was a bitter end to an otherwise strong season.
All told, Phelps pitched to a 3.34 ERA (4.32 FIP) in 99.2 big league innings spread across eleven starts and 22 relief appearances this year. He showed that he could miss bats (8.67 K/9 and 23.2 K%) at the big league level even as a starter (8.48 K/9 and 22.4 K%). The walk rate wasn’t great (3.43 BB/9 and 9.2 BB%) and he was homer prone (1.26 HR/9 and 13.6% HR/FB), but that’s not completely unexpected for a rookie in the AL East. Phelps became just the fifth Yankees pitcher to throw at least 80 innings with a sub-4.00 ERA in his first full season since Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte in 1996*, joining 2006 Chien-Ming Wang, 2008 Joba Chamberlain, 2009 Al Aceves, and 2011 Nova.
Pineda blew out his shoulder and Nova took a step back while Mitchell was traded, Manny Banuelos blew out his elbow, Dellin Betances couldn’t find the strike zone, and Warren seemed to pitch his way out of the team’s plans with that one disastrous start against the ChiSox. Phelps was the team’s only young, upper-level pitcher to actually improve his stock in 2012, which he did by mixing four (really five) pitches, missing bats, and proving his versatility by bouncing back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen. He stepped up and was an important swingman for the Yankees this summer, setting himself up to assume some more responsibility going forward.
* Not counting 1998 Orlando Hernandez. He was a long-time Cuban vet and was (supposedly) 32 when he made his debut that year. I don’t count him as a kid in this instance.
The Yankees were swept out of the ALCS by the Tigers almost a week ago, but it wasn’t until today that Joe Girardi conducted every manager’s annual end-of-season press conference. He said the team has yet to look back and evaluate the 2012 campaign just because everyone takes a few days off to be with their families and kinda get away from baseball immediately after the season ends. They’ll obviously evaluate the club top to bottom in the coming weeks. Here are the important notes from the press conference…
On Alex Rodriguez…
- “These were things that we evaluated a lot before we made our decisions,” said Girardi when asked about benching A-Rod in the postseason. “I don’t go back and second guess myself.”
- Girardi has not yet spoken to Alex (or any other player for that matter) about their relationship, but said “that will take place … it just hasn’t yet.” He isn’t worried about things being strained but acknowledged that actions have consequences and he will deal with them if need be.
- Girardi said he believes A-Rod was healthy in the postseason and was just struggling, particularly against righties.
- “Can Alex be a very good player again? Absolutely, I don’t have any question in my mind,” said the skipper. He praised A-Rod’s baseball smarts and said he expects him to be his everyday third baseman next season.
- Chad Jennings has Girardi’s full quotes about A-Rod if you aren’t sick of hearing about it yet.
On the playoffs…
- “Yes it was somewhat puzzling,” said Girardi on the offense’s struggles. He attributed Robinson Cano‘s disappearing act to being pitched well and just falling into a poorly-timed slump. He did acknowledge that Robbie was frustrated, which likely compounded the problem.
- Girardi said he doesn’t think the team’s unfavorable postseason schedule contributed to their lack of hitting, ditto all the tough games they had to play down the stretch in September. He basically said he doesn’t believe his team was worn out after a month of playoff-type games.
- “I hope not,” said Girardi when asked if he may have he lost the trust of some players by sitting them in the postseason. “I was making moves trying to win ballgames … I’ve been honest with our players and I will continue to do that, and I will do my best for this organization to win every game.”
- Girardi attributed the dull Yankee Stadium atmosphere in the postseason to a lack of scoring on the team’s part, nothing more. “I think our fans are very passionate about the Yankees (because) we see it even on the road.”
- “(It has) not taken place,” said Girardi when asked if CC Sabathia has gone to visit Dr. James Andrews about his elbow. He is encouraged by his ace left-hander’s performance in September and the ALDS and he expects to have him in Spring Training. “We’re always concerned that it’s maybe something more than you think it is … I don’t like people going to see doctors (but) sometimes people have to be evaluated to make sure everything is okay.”
- “We expect him to be back and playing for us next year on Opening Day,” said Girardi about Derek Jeter and his fractured ankle. He added that there are always concerns following a surgery, including Jeter pushing his rehab too hard and having some kind of setback.
- Mariano Rivera did throw sooner than expected this year but Girardi never did ask him if he will definitely return next season. “I don’t think you push a rehab like he pushed it unless you have some interest in coming back,” he said.
- There were no undisclosed or “hidden” injuries this year, so to speak. Russell Martin‘s hands are banged up but that is typical catcher stuff and isn’t a long-term concern.
- Both hitting coach Kevin Long (elbow) and third base coach Rob Thomson (hip) will have surgery this offseason, if you care.
On free agents and the team moving forward, etc…
- “There’s a lot of hunger and fire in him,” said Girardi about Andy Pettitte, but he doesn’t know if the veteran southpaw will return next year. He expects him to discuss things with his family before making a decision.
- He mentioned briefly that like Pettitte, Hiroki Kuroda is among the players who will make a decision about his future and playing beyond this year.
- Girardi said he was unsure about Ichiro Suzuki coming back next year but he knows the veteran outfielder enjoyed his time in New York. He also praised Ichiro for making adjustments like playing left field and batting towards the bottom of the order.
- “I think this kid has something to offer us,” said the manager about Eduardo Nunez while also acknowledging that his role for next year is undetermined because other parts of the club are unsettled. “There is talent there, there is speed, there is excitement, he has a lot to offer.”
- “There’s a lot of players we have to decide what we’re going to do with, but I believe when Spring Training starts next year, we’ll be a championship club,” said Girardi, acknowledging that the team has a lot of players with open contract situations.
- He also spoke about the Yankees getting power from non-traditional power sources (specifically catcher, second base, and center field) and their ability of the offense to absorb the loss of a homerun hitter (i.e. Nick Swisher) if that happens this winter.
- Girardi acknowledged that the team has a busy offseason coming but doesn’t expect the chaos to be a problem. “Sometimes quiet is a bad thing,” he joked.
On the status of him and his coaches…
- “No. The pressure you see I put on myself,” said Girardi when asked about the pressure of entering a contract year. He doesn’t expect the team to talk about a new deal until his current one expires and he doesn’t anticipate asking for an extension before then either.
- Girardi expects the entire coaching staff to return next year but again pointed out that the team has not yet discussed everything.
- Girardi praised his role players for stepping up into more prominent roles than expected this year, mentioning Raul Ibanez, David Phelps, and Cody Eppley by name.
- When asked about Cano’s general lack of hustle down the line to first base, Girardi said he “will address with every player to play hard.”
Over the next few weeks we’re going to spend some time reviewing the entire 2012 season, which featured another division title and unfortunately another disappointing playoff exit.
As we discussed earlier today, the Yankees as a team basically hit like a pitcher in the postseason. They put together a collective .188/.254/.303 batting line in their nine postseason games and scored just two runs in the final three games of the ALCS. It was tough to watch and just flat out pathetic, there’s really no other way to describe it.
The pitching staff, on the other hand, was absolutely stellar up until ALCS Game Four. The starters churned out quality start after quality start, and the bullpen did all it could to preserve leads and keep deficits close. After posting a 3.86 ERA (3.98 FIP) during the regular season, the Yankees received a 2.76 ERA (~3.45 FIP) in 88 postseason innings from the pitching staff.
Unfortunately, Sabathia’s season will be remembered for ending on a sour note as the Tigers battered him for six runs on eleven hits (!) in just 3.2 innings in ALCS Game Four. It was an ugly start in a generally ugly postseason showing by the Yankees as whole, but it was also the exception rather than the rule for the pitching staff.
Sabathia, of course, helped get the Yankees to the ALCS with a pair of dominant outings against the Orioles in the ALDS. He allowed two runs in 8.2 innings in Game One against Baltimore, then followed it up by allowing just one run in the decisive Game Five win. All told, Sabathia struck out 19 batters and walked just five in 21.1 playoff innings including the ALCS disaster. He set a new ALDS record with 17.2 innings pitches, nearly two full innings more than the previous record.
A year ago Pettitte was retired back home, but he got the itch to pitch and came back to the Yankees early in the season. He slotted in as their number two starter in the postseason due in large part to the schedule, as the club tried to optimize the amount of rest for each of their starters. Pettitte made two playoff starts, one in each round, and he tossed up a quality start in each. He held the Orioles to three runs in seven innings in ALDS Game Two and the Tigers to two runs in 6.2 innings in ALCS Game One. As per his norm, Andy did allow a lot of baserunners but continually pitched out of jams. For a guy who was out of baseball a year ago, allowing five runs in 13.2 postseason innings is a minor miracle.
Kuroda was New York’s best starting pitcher from Opening Day through the end of the season, and he turned in a pair of gems in the postseason. Following Sabathia and Pettitte, the first-year Yankee held the Orioles to two runs in 8.1 innings in ALDS Game One before allowing three runs in 7.2 innings in ALCS Game Two. That second start came on three days’ rest, the first time he’d ever done that in his career. Kuroda struck out a season-high eleven in that game, and it would have been eight innings of one-run ball had second base ump Jeff Nelson not blown an obvious out call on Omar Infante at second base. The bullpen allowed two inherited runners to score (charged to Kuroda) after the error. Sixteen innings (really 16.1) of five-run (really three-run) ball from the number three starter? Sign me up for that every day of the week.
Like Sabathia, Hughes ended his season on a down note as a stiff back forced him out of ALCS Game Three after just three innings of work. That shouldn’t erase his ALDS effort however, as he held the Orioles to one run in 6.2 innings while striking out eight in Game Four. Hughes only allowed one run in the ALCS start before exiting with the injury as well, so all told his postseason performance featured just two runs in 9.2 inning of work. As far as number four starters go, you can’t do much better.
Eight of the nine postseason games were very close into the late innings, and the bullpen stepped up in support of the starters in a big way. They allowed just eight runs (seven earned) in 27.1 total innings (2.30 ERA) while walking just four (!), including one intentionally. The late-inning duo of Rafael Soriano and David Robertson allowed just one run in 9.2 combined innings, striking out seven against zero walks and five hits. The lone run was a solo homer off Robertson in ALCS Game Five, when the game was already out of reach. Boone Logan and Clay Rapada combined to retire 11 of 12 left-handed batters faced, with the one exception being a walk by Prince Fielder. David Phelps, who allowed four runs (three earned) in 3.1 total innings, was the only clear negative on a pitching staff who was absolutely dynamite overall in the postseason.
The new playoff schedule has the Yankees playing five games in five days — spanning the final three games of the ALDS and the first two of the ALCS — which means they’ll have to do something creative for their Game Two starter tomorrow night. It’s not ideal but it is what it is, nothing anyone can do. Thankfully the Bombers have a number of viable options to start that game, some better and more practical than others. Joe Girardi indicated that he will announce his Game Two starter during his pre-Game One press conference this afternoon, but first let’s run through the candidates…
Hiroki Kuroda on three days’ rest
Kuroda started Game Three of the ALDS, the first of this five games in five days stretch. He threw 105 pitches across 8.1 innings on Wednesday and would have to start Game Two tomorrow on short rest, something he has never done in his MLB career. Considering his age (37) and how his career-high workload (219.1 IP) seemed to be catching up to him in September, starting Kuroda on three days’ rest seems like a risky proposition.
It’s worth noting that if the Yankees bring CC Sabathia back on short rest of Game Three (which I am absolutely in favor of doing) and do not pitch Kuroda in Game Two, he would get pushed back to Game Four and therefore only make one start in the series even if it goes the full seven games. That is not ideal at all. Kuroda is too good to limit like that.
Although he threw 27 pitches out of the bullpen on Thursday, it shouldn’t be a problem to bring Phelps back tomorrow. He started and threw 86 pitches last Tuesday, so giving the team 80 pitches if needed in the spot start doesn’t feel like too much to ask. Phelps shouldn’t worry anyone considering how well he closed out the season, with just six runs allowed in his final 21 innings. The problem here is that if the Yankees use him for the start, he won’t be available out of the bullpen until at least Game Four and maybe even Game Five. That could be problematic, especially if Joba Chamberlain‘s bruised elbow keeps him out of action for even just the first few games of the series.
Ivan Nova or Freddy Garcia
No offense to these two, but I don’t think I can make a decent case that either should start. Both pitched so poorly down the stretch that they lost their rotation spots late in the season, and it would be wishcasting to run either of them out there expecting a full 100-ish pitch start that gives the Yankees a chance to win. They are options because they’re stretched out and have experience in the postseason, but they’re more “break glass in case of emergency” options that anything else.
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The Yankees announced earlier this morning that Cody Eppley took Eduardo Nunez‘s spot on the ALCS roster, giving the team a full 12-man pitching staff. That may be an indication that they’re leaning towards Phelps for the Game Two start but it’s not a guarantee; they could have easily added the extra reliever knowing both Kuroda and Sabathia will start on short rest and might not throw as many pitches as usual.
It’s worth noting that since Monday is a travel day, running through the entire bullpen in Game Two won’t be a concern since everyone is guaranteed rest the following day. It should also be a throw day for Phil Hughes, who could pitch in relief if needed. Bringing Sabathia back for Game Three means Phil would not start until Game Four on Wednesday at the earliest. Using him for an inning or two on Sunday has to be on the table.
Got five questions this week but two of them got short answers, so it’s more like 4.5 questions this week. Please use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send up mailbag questions, links, or anything else.
Rich asks: I have an irrational love for David Phelps. To me he’s been both durable and productive. From what I see, it seems like a lot of the damage done against him in starts is during the first inning (perhaps rookie jitters?). Any way you can find out his line in starts less that dreaded 1st? I really think he will go on to do great things for the team.
This question was sent in a few days ago, and sure enough Phelps went on to allow two runs in the first inning of Tuesday’s start before settling down and firing off zeroes the rest of the way. Here are his inning by inning splits…
Phelps completed six innings of work only three times in those eleven starts, due in part to pitch limits as he bounced between the rotation and bullpen. Joe Girardi also seemed to have a quick hook at times as well. Opponents did hit Phelps harder during the first inning than every inning other than the fifth, which has a lot to do with him tiring later in starts as well as some sketchy relief appearances. This is the quick and dirty method — I just don’t have the time to go through the game logs manually to pull up his stats as a starter by inning — but it does provide some evidence suggesting that the first inning is usually his worst.
It’s worth noting that this isn’t all that uncommon. More runs are scored in the first inning than any other throughout the league because it’s the inning in which the best hitters are guaranteed to bat. The fifth inning results in the second most offense league-wide as the starter begins to tire and mediocre middle relievers take over. Here is the AL inning-by-inning splits data for reference. Phelps is not unique when it comes to first inning struggles.
Tarik asks: This isn’t strictly a Yankees question, but doesn’t the extra wildcard team really highlight the problem of awarding postseason berths on winning the division? The Orioles and Rangers have better records than the Tigers, yet they have to play a one game wildcard play-in game. Not to mention the fact that the Rays and Angels have better records than the Tigers and they’re going home.
Yeah, that’s one big problem with the current playoff system. We had the same problem with the other system as well, but it really seems to stick out this year because the Tigers clinched the division so early despite having the worst record among all (AL and NL) playoff teams. The only way to completely eliminate this is by balancing the schedule and giving the teams with the top three records a “bye” to the ALDS while the clubs with the fourth and fifth best records meet in the wildcard play-in game. That isn’t practical due to travel and some other stuff, unfortunately. Hopefully the results and seeding are a little more fair going forward, because Detroit got a free pass thanks to the rest of their division being terrible.
Despite being 30, Stewart is still in his pre-arbitration years and will remain under team control through 2016 (!) unless the Yankees decide to non-tender him at some point. They seem to like him, so I expect Stewart to return as the backup next season. He’ll only be paid something close to the league minimum as well.
Martin played his way out of the team’s 2013 plans … unless he played his way back into them in the second half. I still don’t think he’ll get anything close to the three-year, $24M-ish contract he turned down before the season, but re-signing with the Yankees seems more and more likely by the day. Maybe a one-year deal at $7-8M works? Two years at $15M? It’s a weird and unpredictable situation because we know the team loves him, yet for most of the season he didn’t perform at all.
Chip asks: How is Robinson Cano not getting any mention in the MVP race? He’s put up a nearly 150 wRC+ (148 to be exact) as a second baseman with outstanding defense. Is it just the lack of RBIs?
Yeah, probably. That and the fact that he kinda disappeared for a few weeks in April and August, I think. Plus Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera were so insanely good this year that they’re stealing all of the attention, so some of it isn’t even Robbie’s fault. Cano will definitely get MVP votes though, he was the team’s best player this year after all, though I suspect he’ll finish behind Derek Jeter on the ballot. I’d have him no lower than fourth behind Trout, Miggy, and Adrian Beltre if I had a vote, and you can very easily make an argument that Robbie should be third. He was absolutely one of the best players in the league this year, there’s no question.
Daniel asks: Since we all know he’s going to cost a fortune, what fictional trade would be acceptable for the Yankees to trade Robinson Cano?
We’re talking about the best second baseman in the world right smack in the prime of his career, so obviously a lot. The problem is that Cano will be a free agent after next season, so his trade value is somewhat limited by his contract status. The number of true cornerstone-type players who are traded one year prior to free agency is unsurprisingly small, so we don’t have many deals to reference.
The best recent comparable trade is probably the one that sent Adrian Gonzalez from the Padres to the Red Sox two years ago. Cano is a better player now than Gonzalez was then, plus he plays a more premium position, but this is the best comparison we’ve got. Boston forked over a pair of Baseball America top 100 prospects in Casey Kelly (#31) and Anthony Rizzo (#75), plus their first round pick from one year prior in Reymond Fuentes. Two high-end prospects plus a solid third piece seem to be going rate for one year of a superstar.
If the Yankees were to trade Cano, they would almost certainly seek a big league ready outfielder in return. That’s a glaring need. Pitching is always on the agenda as well. I don’t think the Cardinals would give up Oscar Taveras for Cano, which would sorta be the best case scenario for New York. Taveras is a left-handed hitting outfielder and arguably the best offensive prospect in the game, plus he should be ready for the show by like, next May. St. Louis has had trade interest in Robbie in the past, but that was a long time ago. Taveras plus RHP Trevor Rosenthal plus a throw-in? That’s what I would ask for and along the lines of what it should take to pry Cano from pinstripes.
This surprises me a bit, but Joe Girardi announced this afternoon that David Phelps will start in place of Ivan Nova tomorrow. It surprises me only because I thought they would wait to see if they needed to use Phelps in relief tonight before making the call. Either way, it’s probably the right move. Nova’s been terrible and these games are too important.
Earlier this season when the Yankees went on the big midseason run that gave them that once-comfortable ten-game lead in the AL East, they were winning consistently because of their pitching. Every night their starter was pitching not just well, but also going deep into the game. From May 22nd through July 18th, when they went on that 36-13 run, the rotation pitched to a 3.19 ERA (3.55 FIP) while averaging 6.5 innings per start. The starters were dynamite, day after day.
That hasn’t been the case of late. Andy Pettitte got hurt, CC Sabathia got hurt (twice), Ivan Nova cratered before getting hurt, and the Yankees lost their big division lead. From July 19th — the start of the four game series in Oakland — through today, the rotation has pitched to a 4.22 ERA (4.15 FIP) with an average of 6.25 innings per start. I don’t think it was reasonable to expect to the starting staff to continue pitching that well all season, but the drop-off has been quite drastic.
The Yankees have won six of their last seven games and nine of 13 overall, though the rotation as a whole hasn’t stood out during that stretch. They’ve pitch to a 4.06 ERA (3.81 FIP) during those 13 games, which is fine but not great. Better than they had been, I guess is the best way to put it. Maybe serviceable, I don’t know. The offense has scored just enough runs and the bullpen has protected just enough leads to turn those performances into wins, and frankly that’s all that matters at this point. Every win is important, no matter how ugly it is.
Anyway, what does stand out during that 13-game stretch is the performance of the club’s three non-Pettitte homegrown starters, meaning Phil Hughes, David Phelps, and Ivan Nova. They’ve started six of those 13 games and have pitched to a combined 2.70 ERA (3.40 FIP) in 36.2 innings, with the Yankees winning five of the six games. The one loss was when Phelps got rocked in Baltimore, a game the offense actually battled back to tie before the bullpen blew it in the late innings. That one stung.
The club’s veteran starters (Sabathia, Pettitte, Hiroki Kuroda, Freddy Garcia) have pitched to a 5.35 ERA (4.20 FIP) in 38.2 innings in their seven starts during this 13-game stretch. It’s not all on Freddy either, he only made one of those seven starts (three runs in 3.1 innings). Pettitte was superb yesterday, but Kuroda and Sabathia allowed at least four earned runs in four of their five total starts. The vets have combined to throw just two more innings than the kids in one more start, so they haven’t been as effective nor gone as deep into the game.
The Yankees catch a lot of grief for their inability to develop starting pitching and deservedly so, but the team’s three young homegrown starters have picked up the pitching slack in a big way these last two weeks. The veteran guys did most of the heavy lifting earlier in the season and now Hughes, Nova, and Phelps are carrying the torch. That’s usually how these things go, not everyone clicks at once, but not many times in the last few seasons have the young pitchers carried New York. Hughes has allowed more than two earned runs just once in his last six outings, and tonight he’ll look to continue this recent stretch of strong performances from the homegrown arms against the Blue Jays in the series finale.